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J Pediatr Orthop. 2019 Jun 18. doi: 10.1097/BPO.0000000000001418. [Epub ahead of print]

Intra-Articular Radial Head Fractures: A Deceptive Type of Injury.

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Department of Pediatric Orthopaedics and Traumatology, Hospital Universitari Son Espases, Carrer de Valdemossa, Palma de Mallorca.
Department of Pediatric Orthopaedics and Traumatology, Hospital Universitario La Fe, Avinguda de Fernando Abril Martorell, València, Spain.



Isolated intra-articular radial head (IARH) fractures in skeletally immature patients represent a rare injury. Despite their initial benign radiologic appearance, these fractures are at risk for progressive radial head subluxation and may end with degenerative irreversible changes of the radiocapitellar joint. The aim of this study is to highlight the seriousness of these injuries and the importance of early diagnosis and a proper follow-up to achieve optimal outcomes.


We retrospectively reviewed 6 patients with IARH fractures treated at our institution between 2011 and 2016. All patients presented with Salter-Harris types III or IV fracture. Five of 6 fractures were initially undisplaced. Treatment, clinical, and radiographic results were analyzed. Patients were divided into 2 groups according to treatment: patients included in group A were treated conservatively, whereas patients of group B were treated with early surgery. The final functional outcome was assessed using the Oxford Elbow Score (OES). The Broberg-Morrey classification was used for the radiographic results.


Group A included 3 patients (average age, 11±2 y). They developed an initially missed posterior subluxation of the radiocapitellar joint that caused to all of them a painful elbow and limited range of motion (ROM). Despite rescue surgery, they all presented with limited ROM at the final follow-up, although no functional limitations (OES, 46.3±2.9). The radiographs showed early degenerative changes. Group B included 3 patients (average age, 11±1 y) all treated surgically within 1 week from the injury. They showed no limitation of ROM and good functional (OES, 47.7) and radiologic outcomes.


IARH fractures in skeletally immature children are deceptive injuries which are often underestimated. Surgeons should be aware of these fractures, especially when a discrepancy between the clinical signs and symptoms, and the radiologic appearance exists, as this may be the only red flag that allows their identification in the acute setting. An early and accurate diagnosis followed by prompt and more aggressive treatment when necessary is mandatory for successful results.


Level IV-case series.

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